Within the ranks of the conservative looking Volkswagen Passat sedan is a model that’s outrageously rapid, and great value for a decent sized European high performance sedan.
This wolf in sheep’s clothing is the Passat TSi R-line sedan that has the heart of one of the worlds hottest hatches, sharing the same 206kw 2.0-litre turbo charged engine from VW Golf R five- door hatch which is much smaller and costs nearly $5K more.
In Europe and the UK, the Passat is a top seller, achieving that status here is a much tougher task. The already modest pool of potential buyers is quickly evaporating, with those that remain coming from the price driven fleet market. This segment is dominated by the likes of the Toyota Camry, Ford Mondeo and Mazda 6.
This is a cauldron where a quality European model such as the Passat has its back to the wall against such combative and aggressively priced competitors. Most of its sales are likely to be discerning private buyers who are not simply looking for a cut-price car. Another problem for the Passat and other contenders in the medium-large car class is today’s new market being all about SUV’s. For carmakers that don’t have a successful model playing in this space, then life is pretty tough.
This latest Passat arrived here about nine months ago, armed with a bunch of awards including 2015 European car of the Year. However, it will be fascinating to see if it can convert all these accolades into sales success.
The 12-model Passat range is surprisingly affordable for a highly regarded European model, with prices starting at $46,390 for the 1.8 litre turbo petrol sedan. For your money you get a spacious, but rather benign looking sedan. The roomy load-hauling wagon is an additional $1500. It’s money well spent if you are looking for that extra bit of versatility, and the fact it has more visual oomph than its sedan sibling is an added bonus.
Another big plus with the new Passat, and there are many, is the option of a couple of lusty turbo petrol engines. Outputs from 132kw for the 1.8 litre unit that ply’s its trade in the entry and mid spec models, through to a whopping 206kw for the $69,240 TSi sedan supplied for this road test. This and a wagon derivative featuring the same motor are the twin tearaways in the new Passat family. While the 176kw twin turbo diesel Passat wagon I road tested earlier this year, brings offers of zing and urgency, it cannot match the astonishing power and pace of the 206kw turbo petrol TSi R-Line. Mind you there is no shame in that, as very few other sub $70K cars can either.
Finding a word to describe the performance of the 206kw turbo petrol engine was easy, with “sensational” nailing it in one. It delivers seamless linear acceleration across a broad rev range that makes for effortless driving on our often narrow and undulating roads. With its smoothness and low noise levels, this motor that not only redefines refinement, but take it to a whole new level.
The only flaw is a small amount of turbo lag. This is the second or two it takes for the turbo to kick into life after the driver has floored the throttle. While the lag is fleeting, it’s an annoying blemish on such a highly polished power plant. Volkswagen’s clever six-speed DSG automatic has been around a few years now, but each subtle upgrade, sees it improve to the point where it is now right near the top of its game, with its smooth slick shifting gear changing regime.
This is among the roomiest sedan in its class, with the sort of cabin dimensions normally the reserved for large cars, and is a credit to the focus the new Passat design team put on utilising every single millimetre of interior space that they could.
The test vehicle was maxed out with the luxury features expected in a premium full size European sedan. Heading an exhaustive list of standard equipment is climate controlled air conditioning, keyless entry and LED headlamps and daytime running lights. The motor isn’t the only thing this sedan shares with the Golf R hatch. It also rolls on the same distinctive 19-inch Verona alloys wheels.
In addition to the comprehensive safety package fitted across the entire Passat line-up, the range topping R-Line adds a “driver assistance” package that includes a bevy of smart safety technology. One item that has plenty of real-world driving application is the adaptive cruise control. Among other things, it lets you set a safe distance between your vehicle and the one in front, greatly reducing the risk of rear-end crashes, often caused by a split second of inattention by a driver.
The suspension has just the right amount of suppleness to glide nicely over sub par road surfaces. For such a big car, the handling is amazingly nimble, and revels in a good romp over twisty terrain. This allows the driver to appreciate the sharp crisp steering and the share competence of the suspension in more exacting driving situations. Volkswagen’s 4-motion 4WD system plays a major hand in the cars tenacious road holding. However, it’s important not to overlook the contribution of the deftly balanced suspension to what is one of the most enjoyable large luxury sedans I have driven. It’s these qualities that make it easy to see why the new Passat won the 2015 European Car of the year Award in such commanding fashion.
Whats the verdict? A fast, affordable and spacious high quality German sedan, let down by bland and overly cautious styling.